Nurses at University of Chicago return to work Wednesday, but could they strike again?

Chicago Tribune Finance 1 month ago

University of Chicago Medical Center nurses are scheduled to return to work Wednesday morning following their first-ever strike, but it might not be the end of their clashes with the hospital.

The issues that led the nurses to walk off the job remain, and the union hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a second strike. The union would have to give the hospital 10 days notice before striking again.

About 2,200 University of Chicago Medicine nurses went on a one-day strike Friday, after contract negotiations with the hospital broke down. Nurses were then locked out of the hospital for four more days, while temporary nurses took their places.

The nurses are slated to return to work at 7 a.m. Wednesday, and the next bargaining sessions with the nurses are scheduled for Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

“The goal is not to strike,” said Marti Smith, Midwest director of the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United. “The goal is to have a contract. Hopefully we’ll get there.”

But she also said, “We’re going to bargain until we don’t feel like we’re making any progress anymore and then we’ll step back and make a decision."

The hospital has said that earlier talks broke down over the issue of incentive pay, which is additional pay given to nurses who work beyond a certain number of hours a week. But the union says the sticking points were over inadequate nurse staffing at the hospital and overtime issues.

The hospital had offered to add more than 30 additional full-time positions. But the union said that didn’t address some of their concerns with what they say is mandatory overtime and long hours.

Hospital leaders have disputed the union’s claim that nurse staffing is at unsafe levels.

The hospital’s chief nursing officer, Debra Albert, decried the threat of a second strike on a website dedicated to communicating with nurses Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, union talk of another strike is not surprising, as NNOC/NNU’s behavior up to this point has made clear that their primary interest is in striking rather than in reaching a deal,” Albert wrote.

“How many chapters from the union’s national playbook can you and your family afford?” she wrote. “How many chapters does our local community need to endure?”

In response to the nurses strike, the hospital transferred dozens of babies and children in intensive care units to other hospitals, asked ambulances to take new patients elsewhere, temporarily closed some units, transferred some patients to other hospitals and rescheduled some elective procedures.

The hospital said in a statement Tuesday, “Our teams are working aggressively on plans to fully reactivate the Medical Center starting Wednesday morning.”

Hospital leaders had hoped to maintain normal operations during the strike, but said they had to curtail some services because fewer replacement nurses were available than expected. That was partly because nurses at a dozen other hospitals in Florida, California and Arizona also walked off the job Friday, also as part of NNU strikes. Smith said the University of Chicago nurses did not coordinate their strike to fall at the same time as the others around the country Friday.

Though the Chicago nurses went on strike for only one day, the hospital said they could not return to work until five days had passed because they had to guarantee at least five days of work for the replacement nurses.

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